Vintage Bakelite jewelry is quite the rage today, and because of the fact that jewelry made of this type of plastic is quite durable and even valuable.
Unfortunately, the popularity of this type of plastic and the fact that good quality Bakelite jewelry pieces from the Art Deco period will cost as much as a few hundred or thousands, not to mention the rich history they carry, means that your idea of collecting the best of Bakelite jewelry may mean ending up with dupes.
But it is possible to identify Bakelite jewelry correctly, and you and test the pieces right at home.
To do that, you need to learn how to identify Bakelite jewelry, and the recommendations below are some of the tests for making sure that you have authentic Bakelite jewelry.
How To Identify Vintage Bakelite Jewelry
If you found Bakelite jewelry from the Flea market, pawnshop, or even in garage stores, here are some of the most effective tests for Vintage Bakelite jewelry.
Keep in mind that Vintage Bakelite jewelry represents the oldest and coolest style of plastic jewelry. This type of plastic was developed in 1907 by the infamous chemist Leo Baekeland.
At the time of its invention and soon after, Bakelite was the first type of synthetic plastic manufactured then, and even today, it is considered a very hot commodity, especially among collectors of mechanical parts and vintage jewelry.
There have been numerous Bakelite reproductions over the years, and since you wouldn’t want to make a costly mistake, you should be able to identify Bakelite jewelry with ease, Below are some of the best tests for vintage Bakelite jewelry.
1. Hot water test
Several very well-versed individuals with Bakelite and its identification tricks swear that Bakelite jewelry can be tested using hot water. This is a standard test that allows for the identification of plastic.
In this identification method, you must place the Bakelite jewelry piece under hot running water. And if the plastic is made of Bakelite, running it under hot water will result in a formaldehyde-like smell, resulting in the fact that Bakelite jewelry is actually made of formaldehyde and phenols.
This is a great test that works well for bangle bracelets and is the ideal test for jewelry.
This test works pretty much all the time, but there is one challenge – when you need to test it in the flea market or vintage store, for example, hot water may not be that accessible, which means that you may have to figure out other tests.
But that is not all; there is also the fact that plastic may give negative or false positive results. Also, you should avoid the ‘hot pin’ test – this is the test that involves placing a hot needle or pin against the test plastic piece because it could damage it.
This is important because if the plastic is made of celluloid, the pin may ignite a fire. After all, celluloid is highly flammable. The hot pin is also too risky and dangerous to the wearer.
2. Tapping Test
The other test for identifying Bakelite jewelry is the tap test. With this test, you need to tap the pieces of test Bakelite together, then listen to the sound the details make.
If you are looking for Bakelite bracelets, for example, the two pieces will produce a ‘clunk’ sound if the two pieces are made of Bakelite.
The ‘Clunk’ sound is the most distinctive sound from Bakelite jewelry, so tapping the pieces together will give you an idea of what you are dealing with. To confirm, you should gently pat other types of plastic together, then compare the sounds from the plastic materials.
3. Weight Test
You could also identify Bakelite jewelry using the weight test. Generally, Bakelite is much heavier than other forms of plastics like Celluloid.
So, with this test, you’ll need to hold the test Bakelite piece with one hand and the other plastic in the other hand.
Two pieces of Bakelite will feel like they weigh pretty much the same, but if they are made of different materials, the Bakelite piece will feel a tad heavier. Unfortunately, this is not a conclusive test.
4. The Smell Test
The other reliable test for Bakelite jewelry is the smell test. In this test, you need to rub the test plastic against your thumb rather vigorously and up until you feel the piece of plastic heating up.
Just before the plastic piece cools down, take a whiff of the Bakelite. If it’s made of Bakelite, the jewelry piece will emit a distinctive chemical Formaldehyde odor that lingers for some time.
The challenge is that this test takes a bit of time, but it is a good test when out shopping. In the case of pieces made with plastic, you can test them using other methods. But be careful not to immerse the parts in hot water.
5. Simichrome Polish Test
This is an effective chemical test that would work well for you if you have the non-abrasive cream with you. Simichrome polish is one of the best chemical tests for Bakelite, and it accurately allows for testing of the Bakelite jewelry pieces.
To test the authenticity of Bakelite, you need to rub a small amount of Simichrome cream on the test Bakelite jewelry. You only need to dab a small amount of the cream on the jewelry.
And if the piece of Bakelite jewelry polished leaves a yellowish stain on the cloth used to dab on the jewelry, then the piece is genuine. That said, the color on the cloth may turn from light cream to a darker cream/yellow.
If the piece of bakelite jewerly is lacquered, the test will be negative. The other pieces that will not pass the test are the Black Bakelite pieces. With these pieces, you may fall back to the hot water test.
The Bakelite testing pads also work quite well, and they are a good alternative to the use of the carrying tube with Simichrome polish.
The pads work quite well. Note that an alternative to the simichrome polish is the 409 method, which is quite reliable.
6. 409 Method
As mentioned above, this is the other reliable method of testing Bakelite jewelry, and it involves testing it with the 409 cleaning Formula.
So, while Scrubbing Bubbles was once the standard cleaner that was also used for testing Bakelite jewelry, 409 Cleaner is now the recommended test solution that works well every time.
It’s considered the ideal test remedy because you only need to rub a small amount of the chemical on a cotton swab, then rub it gently on the inside of the test Bakelite piece.
If the piece is made of genuine Bakelite, the cotton swab will run yellow. But if it is lacquered, it may give a negative test with the 409 methods. And as is the case with Simichrome polish, Black Bakelite will also fail the test, so you may have to fall back on the hot water test.
7. Visual inspection
The other way of testing for genuine Bakelite jewelry is by closely inspecting the pieces. Look out for signs of wear, such as patina and scratches.
New pieces of plastic don’t have the old patina and scratches, but the vintage pieces often have carvings on the edges.
You should use a loupe or magnifying glass to test the item and remember that old/ Vintage Bakelite pieces will have minor scratching and will show signs of wear, even if they look like they are in excellent condition.
That said, you should also know that Bakelite jewelry doesn’t have any mold seams, even vintage pieces.
Some of the things you need to know about genuine Bakelite jewelry are as follows:
Genuine vintage Bakelite jewelry contains no seams – so, unlike other plastics, Bakelite contains no seams because Bakelite jewelry is made out of Bakelite cut from long tubes that are then tumble polished. The Carved Bakelite bracelets are handmade, and the unfinished products have no seams because they have no carvings and lathes. The pins of Bakelite are cut using chunks or sheets of the material, and after, they are carved and then tumble-polished, as needed.
Genuine Bakelite jewelry patterns are largely imperfect – this is a common feature of Bakelite jewelry, and the pieces are carved in a hand-held position. However, the actual Bakelite carving is done using machines, and the pieces are held against the human eye and lathe, gauging how deep the cuts are. Since the pieces made of Bakelite jewelry were classified as the type of jewelry for every woman, their handheld production in mass meant that the pieces were largely imperfect and also quite affordable.
Findings – the other thing to take note of when it comes to Bakelite jewelry is the fact that Bakelite jewelry, especially the vintage pieces, which features vintage findings. Note that the findings are basically the materials that are used to create the plastic jewelry pieces, and they also include jump rings, pinbacks, clasps, and hooks, among others. So, when looking for vintage pieces, you should look for the findings that may be riveted or non-riveted on the jewelry.
If you have pieces that you suspect to be Bakelite, the tips above will help you accurately identify the jewelry.
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Stephanie is a jewelry lover when she was a teenager. Her major was fashion design when she was in college. She is a jewelry designer at SOQ Jewelry and other design companies. Now she is also a writer for our website. She writes a lot of designs&brands posts with very actionable tips.